Group theatre trips for the rest of 2008

I help to run a theatre group at the company I work for, which arranges trips every 3-4 weeks to shows on in London. It helps that we get cheaper tickets because of the group discounts that producers generally offer.

We arrange our programme 6 months at a time, and since it’s the start of July, we’re just finalising the list of shows for the rest of the year. After a couple of discussions and some email back-and-forth, we have agreed our selection. We think it’s a pretty well balanced programme, so read of if you want some ideas for what to see.

We’re starting with a list of 8 shows, although we retain the right to add shows later in the year! So here’s the shows, and why we think they’re great… obviously this relies on there being sufficient ticket availability but I’m hopeful.

 

1. Joseph & The Technicolor Dreamcoat (Adelphi Theatre)
This is the 2nd show to have come from the BBC’s musical reality TV show with Andrew Lloyd Webber – ‘Any Dream Will Do’, and therefore stars the series winner, Lee Mead

The show opened back in July last year, but the clamour for tickets has been so great that we only ended up booking our trip for this year (the only performances that had enough availability for our group were those when Lee is on holiday, and that wasn’t a very popular choice!).

If you want to know more about the show, or the production itself, I’d encourage you to take a look at the production’s official website.

If you want to know what all the fuss is about, it might be worth checking out one of the show’s reviews – not everyone was positive (Michael Billington of the Guardian didn’t like it), but The Telegraph, The Times and Sunday Times were all impressed.

To be honest, it didn’t really matter what the critics said though – this was always going to be a hit with the public after the popularity of the BBC series that ‘discovered’ Lee. As someone that supported Lee all the way through the series, I’m looking forward to seeing him on stage.

 

2. Twelfth Night (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)
For those of you that haven’t been to the Open Air Theatre before, it’s a beautiful venue in the middle of Regent’s Park. Given that there’s no roof, the experience can be somewhat dependent on the British summer – on a nice summer evening, it’s a really magical place to watch theatre.

The theatre has a new Artistic Director this year – Timothy Sheader was previously as Assistant Director at the RSC for 2 years, so he was a natural choice for a theatre with a strong Shakespeare heritage. Twelfth Night is just one of three Shakespeare plays in this year’s programme – the others are Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in case you’re interested.

Since the show is already open, you can already check out the reviews. Jeremy Kingston in the Times was the biggest fan, giving the show 4 stars, and closing with “it comes as an amazing pleasure to see such a well-thought-out and convincing production as this.” The critics at the Guardian and the Independent weren’t as fulsome in their praise, but the strength of the cast is enough for me to want to see the show.

Tickets for all this summer’s shows are available direct from the theatre’s website

 

3. They’re Playing Our Song (Menier Chocolate Factory)
I’ve already written a post about this upcoming production, so to save me repeating myself, you can find it here.

In short – I think this is going to be a fantastic production – it’s a great show, written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, with a very witty book by Neil Simon. The casting is also spot on, with Connie Fisher (in her first performance since The Sound of Music) joined by Alistair McGowan who has recently been seen in Little Shop of Horrors and Cabaret. For more coverage on the show after it was announcement, check out What’s On Stage or Daily Telegraph.

In case you’re wondering why I’m so confident about this show, it’s simple – the Menier hasn’t yet got it wrong with its choice of musicals. Since 2005, they’ve introduced London to the brilliant Jason Robert Brown, revived Little Shop of Horrors and create a phenomenal revival of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George that transferred to Broadway and ended up with a stack of Tony nominations. I certainly wouldn’t bet against They’re Playing Our Song being another hit…

 

4. Now or Later (Royal Court Theatre)
To be honest, I hadn’t actually heard anything about this show until someone else at work mentioned it to me, but given that the play is on at the Royal Court, it’s less likely to receive mass media coverage than a new musical.

On closer inspection, it turns out that the cast includes a young British actor, Eddie Redmayne, who I went to college with. Since graduating 5 years’ ago, he seems to have been spending most of time making films (his Wikipedia profile lists 10 films, including ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’).

He is also clearly a very accomplished stage actor – he won a number of awards for his performance in Edward Albee’s The Goat. I didn’t catch that production unfortunately, but I did see him in Hecuba at the Donmar Warehouse a few years’ back, and it’s good to see that he is still doing theatre alongside his film work.

The subject-matter of the play will almost certainly grab some attention – it’s set on US election night, which seems like rather astute timing from Dominic Cooke, the theatre’s Artistic Director, who is also directing this production.

For more about the play, or to book tickets, check out the Royal Court’s website  

 

5. Rain Man (Apollo Theatre)
The latest addition to our programme, it was recently announced that Josh Hartnett would be making his West End debut in this stage adaptation of the classic film that originally starred Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.

Hartnett’s film-induced fame meant that the news garnered plenty of coverage, from outlets ranging from the Huffington Post to The Stage. Only time will tell as to whether he can live up to the hype…

 

6. Jersey Boys (Prince Edward Theatre)
Jersey Boys opened in London back in March, having already been hugely successful on the other side of the pond.

The show tells the story of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, using their own songs. Whilst it may yet another jukebox musical (London has far too many of them for my liking), there are no complaints about the soundtrack – songs include ‘Sherry’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’. You can find out more about the show (and see some video clips) on the official website.

To find out what the critics thought of the show, check out my review round-up here. In case you’re wondering though, there’s plenty of positive in there, hence why it’s on my list!

 

7. Oedipus (National Theatre)
There hasn’t been that much coverage about Oedipus yet, mainly because it’s not yet on sale and doesn’t open until October.

However, it’s part of what Nicholas Hytner considers “the most ambitious year since I became the National’s director” and will almost certainly be a hot ticket. You can find the press release of the season’s announcement here, or responses in the Independent or The Stage.

Ralph Fiennes will be playing the title role, returning to the stage after his critically-acclaimed performance in Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage. He will be joined in the cast by Clare Higgins, whose performance in Hecuba in 2005 won numerous plaudits. The show will be directed by Jonathan Kent, who has spent the last year as Director at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, most recently directing Marguerite.

Keep your eyes peeled to make sure you get a ticket as soon as it goes on sale.

 

8. Ivanov (Donmwar West End, Wyndham’s Theatre) 
Not content with running one of London’s best theatres, Michael Grandage has taken on a year’s lease at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End. The Donmar is producing 4 shows, each starring at least one big name, under the Donmar West End banner. You can read more about the season here

There’s a fantastic set of shows, starting with a new verion of Checkhov’s Ivanov, which will star Kenneth Branagh in the leading role. Full casting was announced in the last 2 weeks, with Branagh joined by two rising stars – Tom Hiddleston (Cassio in the Donmar’s recent production of Othello and Andrea Riseborough (after her recent screen portrayal of Margaret Thatcher).

Grandage will direct the show himself, and if you’re still wavering, it’s worth noting that the Donmar West End season will keep prices down, just as it does as it’s home venue. The most expensive seats in the house will be just £32.50, a bargain for a West End show at the moment, especially for one which such a big name in the leading role.

 

 So, there you have the choice of 8 shows for the rest of this year. Feel free to let me know what you think.

 

9. War Horse (National Theatre)
War Horse has already had a hugely successful, sell-out run at the National Theatre last year, but for some reason, I never got round to seeing the show last time around. Thankfully, Nicholas Hytner recently announced that Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris’ production will be returning to the Olivier Theatre in September.

The show got 5-star reviews from The Times and Sunday Times amongst others, so it’s very excited that anyone that missed it last time has another chance to see the show.

The life-size puppets received much praise last-time round – if you’re keen to see what they looked like, there’s a full picture gallery in guardian.co.uk.

One last bonus for War Horse – it’s going to be the first production that runs on Sundays at the National as part of their new plans to make the theatre a 7-day operation. As if you needed another excuse to make a trip to the South Bank!

  

********************************************************************************
Reminder – planned trips
Joseph & The Technicolor Dreamcoat (Adelphi Theatre)
Twelth Night (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)
They’re Playing Our Song (Menier Chocolate Factory)
Now or Later (Royal Court Theatre)
Rain Man (Apollo Theatre)
Jersey Boys (Prince Edward Theatre)
Oedipus (National Theatre)
Ivanov (Donmwar West End, Wyndham’s Theatre) 
War Horse (National Theatre)

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